Youth, Revisited

At 17, Omar never thought he’d be chasing sobriety.

His high school sophomore year was heady. He began smoking weed and drinking beers. It seemed fun. It felt manageable — almost like a rite of passage. Lot of his friends were doing it. He was a standout on his suburban high school’s baseball team. A starting catcher. His mom was a teacher and his dad a roofer. He had a younger brother who idolized him.

Then, wild mood swings became an unwelcome, uncontrollable compass in his life. There were some days he felt like he was riding rainbows. Then, others when he couldn’t get out of bed. Omar began missing school on those days. They came faster and harder.

He got booted from the baseball team — his social anchor — for missing school and letting his grades slide. Adrift without the sport he believed defined him, he smoked more weed, began selling it, and experimenting with other substances. He suddenly found himself solidly in the grip of drugs and booze.

Omar sometimes disappeared from his home for days. If he thinks hard about it now, those were lost days. He couldn’t recount them hour by hour. Or, even day by day. This makes him sad and bewildered.

“I was self-medicating. I was making money. At the time it all felt like a great solution. Until it wasn’t. The summer, pretty much all of 2018, was a ‘run.’ It was rocky,” Omar said during a recent interview at CHD’s Goodwin House for adolescent boys in Chicopee.

The program is named after CHD’s President and CEO, Jim Goodwin, and opened in 2017 as a 90-day program in response to a void of residential substance abuse treatment programs for teen boys. This, despite multiple studies and statistical reports flagging adolescent boys as among the most vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction.

“This is the only residential addiction program in Western Massachusetts for boys 13 to 17. We focus on therapy and self-help. We connect them with Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous programs. That’s not easy to do when you’re that young,” program director Chantal Silloway said.

Outside of baseball speak, a “run” is not a good thing. It’s a phrase for a tear leading up to or amid addiction. An extended period of drug or alcohol use; a term that is emblematic of being truly out-of-control.

2018 was Omar’s run.

“I failed nearly every class I took junior year,” he said.

His family tried everything. They shipped him to a farm school in Virginia with only a few students. He was ejected for vaping and deliberately eating a poisonous flower, he said. There were hospitalizations. Substance abuse placements. Doctors. Prescriptions.

Omar’s very young reality came to a breaking point. He chose Goodwin House.

“I decided I’d stick it out here. Do something right for once,” he said. “The staff has been incredibly helpful. They’re supportive. It almost makes me afraid to think of where I would be without this program.”

He has been attending a sober high school in Springfield and will shortly go home. Sober. His choice is to attend a similar school in Eastern Massachusetts and play baseball at his alma mater. Crouched down. Waiting for the pitch. Sober.

“I never realized how smart I was sober,” Omar said. “I’ll graduate with my class, which I never saw happening a year ago.”

If you or a loved one would like to know more about CHD’s addiction recovery services, visit CHD.org

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